Readers’ Roundtable: Are You Competitive? If not, why not?

What does being competitive mean to you?  img cc via adamkr on flickr
What does being competitive mean to you? img cc via adamkr on flickr

I had to delete Words With Friends from my phone.  My competitive nature didn’t allow me to go easy on anyone who wasn’t as formidable as I, and when I did find worthy opponents I would…well to put it mildly, I’d get shouty when I wasn’t winning.

It’s pretty rare that a mid-30’s mid-packer like me will be vying for even the most humble award, so I don’t generally consider myself a competitive runner.  But last week at the Washington Heights 5k, I saw it.  The setup: I had barely any sleep and was exhausted from insane hours on a pilot and marathon training, I haven’t been training on hills and the hills in the race were nasty, and I went into the corral telling myself it was just part of the day’s 15 miles and I should just take it easy.  Oh yeah, and it was prohibitively overcrowded.

But “take it easy” isn’t really in the vocabulary of the competitive, and I attacked every hill with everything I had left after having run at 10pm the night before, and when I scraped in just under my B goal I got shouty again.  “Is that all ya got, Cinnamon? Harder! Better! You want to be a Boston qualifier? Run like one, ya wuss!”  What my Words opponents never understood is that, for me, competition is synonymous with motivation.

I’ve since made peace with my finish time, but the experience got me wondering about the rest of you:

Do you consider yourself competitive?  If not, why not?  If so, are you competing against the clock, other runners, or just yourself?  How does competition affect your racing experience?

As always, we’ll take your answers in the comments!

Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. By day she's a camera assistant for films and tv in New York, and by night she's on a quest for zen in the 10k. Her writing is a mix of satirical humor, finding wholeness as an average runner, cheering for runners at all paces and more.

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19 comments

  1. I’m super competitive against myself. AND… If I’m being totally honest… Against runners who are in the same speed range as me. If I’ve seen you at a race, and you’ve inched me by a few seconds- I want to beat you the next time out. I think it has made me a better runner… Or at least a little bit faster!

    1. I was just thinking that if this was a men’s site we wouldn’t bother asking this question. It’s interesting to me that when some of us women talk about competitiveness it’s like this dirty little secret 😉

      1. You are so right, Salty! I’m almost ashamed to admit that I love to compete against (and beat!) other runners. I love surging ahead of someone during a race, especially at the end. When it’s all over, I seek out those who beat me and those I may have whizzed by to congratulate them.

        I love it when competitors encourage each other during a race. I ran shoulder-to-shoulder for a while with a woman during mile 22 of my first marathon. At one point, she said to me “C’mon, let’s do this!” It meant so much to me that I sought her out afterwards to hug her. I try to do this during races (when I have enough breath to talk). In the end, it’s the competition with ourselves that really counts–at least for me!

        1. Yeah! Me too. I always give a breathy “good job” to those I pass and to those that pass me – to the extent I can of course ;). You can be competive and a decent well-adjusted person simultaneously. Obvs you can also be an asshole while being competitive as well. But when done right being competitive can be a great thing, imo anyway!

          1. Sure, it’s part of the fun of racing! Being competitivein a friendly way doesn’t hurt anybody.

    2. I’m pretty much like this too. I never think of myself as competitive, but maybe that’s because I’m comparing myself to my boyfriend, who’s SO competitive he won’t even enter a race if he thinks he’s too out of shape to do decently well. He just can’t enjoy himself. I am not like that at all!

      Sometimes my inner competitor rears its head though… for example, during a trail 10K I ran a couple weeks ago. It was my first trail race in FOREVER and I hadn’t been training on trails at all, so it was really just supposed to be a fun way to get my Saturday run in and enjoy being out in the woods. Somewhere in the first couple miles, the poorly marked course led to me and EVERYONE around me getting super lost and confused. We knew we were now somehow running some section of the course BACKWARDS, but no one had any idea where we were or how to fix it. And for some reason, this REALLY pissed me off!!! I really shouldn’t have cared because it was supposed to be FUN, but for some reason the fact that the results were now MEANINGLESS (because I had no idea how far I was going to run or how far anyone else was going to run) (and yes, I was shouting the word “MEANINGLESS” in all caps inside my head) had me at rage level red. It was so ridiculous! It’s not like I was going to do well anyway!

      I kept telling myself to calm down because it really did not matter, and no one else around me seemed that pissed off, but for some reason that only made me more angry. And then I was angry at myself for being angry and not enjoying the run!! It took me like two miles before I could finally zen out and start just enjoying a trail run on a beautiful day, but jeez. It was so weird. I think usually a little competitiveness is a positive for me, but sometimes it can be a fun-ruiner! 🙂

  2. Internally I have long considered myself competitive, but I never said it because I don’t have a super-impressive running pedigree so I felt like if I said it, I’d be a poser. But recently I have decided to go for it and identify myself as a competitive runner; whenever I race I at least want to beat the other ladies my age and I’m even gunning for the speedy younger ones (both male and female). I find it totally thrilling to finish among them, even if I’m only racing local road races that no one knows or cares about but me.

  3. I’m a born competitor. When my sister was born, I broke my collarbone as way to get more attention than her! As a kid, I competed in bowling (of all sports) and constantly fought to have my name on the high score sheets. When I discovered running, it was the perfect sport for competing with myself and others. But I have found it difficult at times to embrace as women are stereotyped as bitchy if they are competitive. And being bitchy isn’t good for a people pleaser’s image! I like what you say Garlic about the thrill of competing, even in small races. And I like what Amanda said about competing with those with similar abilities. It sucks when you are way in over your head (i.e. collegiate track races I enter and always finish last, lol).

      1. A) My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic isn’t competitive, and whether I’ve deleted it or whether I have beaten all the levels and gotten all the ponies and am waiting impatiently for the next update is something I’d just rather not say. It’s a fine game for any grown adult. A FINE GAME.

        B) I think it’s really cool that you enter collegiate track races! Why don’t I do that? Running when the general field is way out of your league actually sounds cool as hell to me. I don’t need to be competing against others to get competitive (see post above, re: 5k time)!

        I really miss track events. You would think, since the running boom has exploded the way it has, that track races would be booming along with road races, but that’s not the case at all. Is it because people aren’t interested in competing?

        I also think it’s interesting that this has gotten the least amount of responses of any Readers’ Roundtable post we’ve had yet. Is competition something women just don’t want? Why not? Are we afraid of being rude or looking like jerks? Are we afraid of losing?

        1. A) HA! Love it.

          B) YES! Runner’s World actually had an article in their most recent mag I was impressed with- promoting checking out all-comers meets. There might still be some races left. I usually go to directathletics.com for a schedule.

          ** I wonder why, too. I think many of the women’s sites are all about coming together and being one big, happy family of women runners. That can happen, no problem with that. We just need to find a way to promote that it’s ok to compete while still being friends. Amanda, Salty, and Zerly got it off to a good start above!

  4. Love this! I feel like I’m by nature a competitive person (and don’t you DARE tell me I can’t do something because you can bet I’ll then set my sights on that and try to prove you wrong). But in the actual races I sometimes struggle with competing with those around me. (I.e. Chasing down that girl a few hundred feet in front) I’m often racing against the clock and find that I get to the point where I just can’t muster the energy to care about place. BUT I’ve been crushed two times to find that I’d missed out on an awesome age group award due to 3-4 seconds!! So now my new goal is to try to “compete” more in a race and try to light that competitive fire under my butt late in the marathon.

  5. I suspect I’m competitive, but I don’t have a killer instinct or a drive for strategery. (except when delighting in the thrill of devastation wrought by a negative-split … heh heh heh)

  6. I am competitive against my husband when he doesn’t train and I do! He still beats me in races and why shouldn’t he ran Boston and has huge thighs! But still I work hard so think I should beat him! Keeps me motivated and maybe let’s me pass others on my way to try and catch him!

  7. I’m so immersed in the competitive atmosphere here at school. My husband runs Division 1, and from being in that culture I have no problems admitting that I love to be competitive! I think the important distinction is to make sure that you aren’t basing your worth as a runner or a person by how you compare to those around you.
    For instance, some of my husband’s teammates are at NCAA indoor track nationals right now (that’s bugger HARD to get into) and qualified for the Olympic trials. But they are the most humble, down to earth guys who are grateful for all they’ve been given. They’re still just as competitive as heck. But they don’t base their paradigm on how they compare, you know? They run because they know that under-performing wouldn’t be true to themselves, their team, their coach or their school.
    Cool, huh?

  8. Clearly I’m weird, but I think running has actually forced me to be less competitive. For probably the first time in my life, I’m working hard to get better at something I have zero natural talent for and am never going to actually be good at…so I’ve had to figure out how to let go of all the competitiveness and perfectionism, and enjoy the ride. (And celebrate those little incremental improvements, because don’t get me wrong, I love those!)

    1. It’s an interesting perspective, Tina, I’m glad you brought up that part of it! It can be very humbling indeed, as I’m discovering myself with a potential injury just four and a half weeks out from my goal marathon!

      The one thing I’ll remind you of though is to never say never!

  9. Oh, I’m competitive alright, and perhaps to a fault. I make EVERYTHING in my life a competition. I think that’s why I love running so much. I can be competitive with others, but I can also compete with myself, which I think is a healthy way to approach life. Every race I compete in – whether it’s a 5K or a triathlon – I decided ahead of time what my specific competition will be: “I want to place in my age group,” or “I want to finish this half marathon in under 2:00.” I love to feel as though I’ve won something.

    1. Yeah, Juniper, exactly! I win against myself all the time, and I get to prance around and gloat because I am so super awesome that I won. If that’s a little bit like every kid getting a trophy it’s okay, because it feels so good!